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Letter in Response to County Executive's Budget Comments

March 16, 2001
The following is the edited text of a letter delivered today [Friday, March 16] to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan from Board of Education President Nancy J. King and Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in response to the budget announcement yesterday.

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March 16, 2001

The Honorable Douglas M. Duncan

County Executive

Montgomery County Government

101 Monroe Street

Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear Mr. Duncan:

We want to thank you for the additional funding you recommended yesterday in support of the Fiscal Year 2002 Operating Budget for the Montgomery County Public Schools and the recognition you gave to its achievements as "a world-class educational system." These statements reflect a continuing partnership that is so critically important for the future of our school system. Unfortunately, your other comments about fiscal responsibility within the school system are at odds with our own understanding of the events of the past 20 months. It would appear, therefore, that we may not have done a good enough job of keeping you and your staff informed of the various measures taken last year and under way this year to reduce costs, reorganize programs, streamline services, and defer expenditures.

In fact, we have undertaken these efforts in fiscal belt-tightening and redirection of resources in direct response to the economic necessities of the county and, in no small measure, the continuing advice and counsel we have received from you and your staff over the past year and a half. We regret that our responsiveness and success in following this advice apparently have not been adequately communicated to you.

We want to take this opportunity to provide a summary of these initiatives (along with the enclosed detailed listing and other information).

* Altogether, the Board of Education's actual budget for FY 2001 and the requested budget for FY 2002 include savings and redirection of resources that represent a total of $26.8 million.

* The FY 2001 budget includes $6.1 million of non-instructional savings and $10.5 million of redirection of resources, including significant organizational efficiencies. For FY 2002, more than $2.2 million in one-time expenditures was redirected to priority programs, while an additional $2.0 million was redirected to higher priority needs.

* The requested FY 2002 budget also includes $5.9 million of savings that do not affect educational programs. These savings include $4.3 million in savings in the Employee Benefits Plan for both active and retired employees, $1.1 million in retirement contribution savings, $430,000 in utilities savings related to electricity costs, and over $100,000 in other savings.

* Administrative costs have been reduced to just 2.4 percent of the budget, the smallest amount ever, and the school system has one of the smallest administrations (as a percentage of total staff) of any school system in Maryland. This means that 97.6 percent of the total budget is earmarked for direct instructional costs and non-administrative support.

* Since 1991, the Board of Education has realized $234 million in annual savings, accounting for 18 percent of the currently requested budget.

These fiscal measures have been taken while at the same time using the improved funding received to make wise investments in critical areas. Your support of these initiatives last year was important in their overall success, especially in the area of class-size reductions and targeted improvements in reading and mathematics. In fact, the development of these initiatives as a continuing process over a four-year period was highlighted this time last year as a particular strength for the school system because it responded to the fiscal limitations by not trying to do too much too soon.

The critical issues facing our school district, as you know, have not gone away. If anything, they have become more acute, given the new information from the recent study of kindergarten students identifying the serious literacy issues affecting a growing number of impoverished children enrolling in kindergarten. This issue underscores the urgency that has underscored all of our initiatives.

Nonetheless, we have made significant progress, especially in the area of academic trends, and we will continue to make progress while at the same time looking for additional ways to redirect resources, eliminate unnecessary expenditures, and use budgetary funds in the most prudent and cost-effective manner possible. We look forward to your continuing support of these efforts.

Sincerely,

Nancy J. King, President, Board of Education

Jerry D. Weast, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools

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